There are some comics that stopped with no warning that their fans justifiably fear will never be completed. A few of them have had the creators point-blank say will not come back (Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s “Big Numbers,” for instance, or Matt Wagner’s “The Aerialist”), but for most it feels like the only word is no word at all. That’s finally changed with Geof Darrow’s “Shaolin Cowboy,” which had a 7-issue run under the Wachowski Siblings’ Burleyman Entertainment comic book imprint almost a decade ago. Shaolin Cowboy back cover illustrations have been teased on “Dark Horse Presents,” and a prose magazine was published earlier this year. But now, the wait is over. And it’s charmingly bonkers.
“Shaolin Cowboy” #1 opens with a “The Story so Far…” two-page prose piece, which is deliberately over the top and should be almost instantly obvious that it’s not meant to be taken seriously. That’s because readers don’t need to know anything that’s happened up until now, with the original “Shaolin Cowboy” having been blissfully plot-free, with just the silent Shaolin Cowboy and his talking mule wandering through the landscape and going up against bigger and stranger foes. There’s no need to worry, and “The Story so Far…” makes that immediately clear to any new readers.
Sadly the mule Lord Evelyn Dunkirk Winniferd Esq. isn’t around in the new series, but the general meandering path of the title character is still there. This issue we get to see him free himself from underground, pick up a double-chainsaw contraption, and go up against both a bunch of stupid teenagers and (more importantly) a horde of zombies. There’s actually a tiny bit of plot involving people trying to find the Shaolin Cowboy, but it’s hardly the focus of the comic. Mostly it’s just an opportunity for Darrow to draw incredibly, hyper-detailed art set in a desert landscape.
As for that art, it’s beautiful. How else could you get away with two pages of a frog sitting on a rock, followed by the rock being flung out of the ground and the frog hopping away? Every page is meticulously drawn, with thousands of striations on the rocks around the main character, hundreds of wrinkles on his pants, and zillions of little pebbles on the ground. That’s before the zombies show up, of course. It’s rare that a blood spray can be called beautiful, but with his initial attack on the zombies, that’s what we get. It’s one thing to draw every little drop of blood carefully, it’s another thing entirely to do so in such a graceful and organic manner. That’s the real power of Darrow’s art; it’s not just drawn at such a crazy detailed level, but rather it’s done so in a way to draws the eye across perfectly because of the sheer craftsmanship of each page.
The only downside to “Shaolin Cowboy” #1 was that things are just finally kicking into high gear when the issue comes to a close, but with more issues around the bend, readers should be in for a fun time. Hopefully sooner or later, we’ll also see some collections of the original material — and if so, I’d like to place my request now for an oversized hardcover edition, please. If there’s an artist whose creation deserves to be seen that large, it’s Darrow. Until then, though, I’ll just keep staring at what we’ve got. It really is something else.